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​The 55th Annual UND Writers Conference

Arts | February 15th, 2024

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the pursuit of knowledge has directed humankind to new horizons – the ocean depths, the infinite reach of space, and the hidden secrets of cells and microbes…or to Artificial Intelligence, which while spawned from the minds of humans, has no humanity at all. Or has it in fact become sentient? 

The language of discovery has infused most disciplines, whether one speaks of public health “moonshots” to end cancer or the effort to “chart” the human genome. Yet, these endeavors coexist with other vessels for knowledge, which bring history to bear on the present. And, as we know, if we pause to remember and think back (or forward), religion, folklore, and art have always preserved cultural knowledge across generations.

Similarly, physical spaces — from the hearthside to kitchen tables, to archives and libraries — drive what knowledge has been passed on, and how. In cultural traditions across the globe, storytellers, artists, and musicians have used their craft to explore and imagine the limits and the scope of knowledge, with the aim of bringing those insights to their communities.

This year’s Conference will feature authors and artists whose work considers the role of the arts in exploring and charting our shared past, our present, and our uncertain future. They will discuss how storytelling, aesthetics, and the arts facilitate an understanding of these horizons, while fostering community and discovery. As always, we also wanted some hands-on arts experience, so there will be workshops and opportunities for those in attendance — in person at UND’s Memorial Student Union or online — to share and create their own work, which will hopefully bring a little joy to all as we wait for spring to finally arrive.

The Conference will feature readings, panel discussions, workshops, a reading by "Voices of the Valley," and open mic sessions. All events are free and open to the public in person (at UND Memorial Union in Grand Forks) or online. Registration is necessary to receive your Webinar Zoom link. For more information, visit the Conference website at www.undwritersconference.org or follow us on Facebook (@UNDWritersConference) or Twitter — um, we mean “X” (@UNDWritersConf).

Ariann Rousu

By Nicholas Baldwin

Ariann Rousu’s trajectory as an artist and designer took an unexpected turn when she joined the AI Lab at the University of North Dakota. Initially tasked with testing the range of motion of a NASA spacesuit for Mars, Rousu explored data analysis and motion picture capture — experiences that honed her visual skills as an artist.

Rousu now creates innovative digital worlds for the Native Dancer Project team, a multi-user computer environment for competitive powwow dancing that features dance regalia found in dances custom to the Ojibwe, Dakota, Lakota, and other Northern Plains associated nations.

Rousu’s unique perspective is formed by “growing up on a reservation in Callaway and as a member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation in Minnesota.” On the Native Dancer Project, Rousu reflects: “It has always been important to me to keep learning and expanding my skill set as an artist, as well as play my part in being prideful of, preserving, and sharing my Native culture. This project is challenging me to do just that, and I am grateful for the opportunity.”

Ariann Rousu stands out among the talented individuals contributing to this year's UND Writers Conference as an adept multimedia artist. With degrees in fine arts and photography, including a certificate in digital imaging from UND, Rousu creates from rich, nuanced, accurate sources that strive to “remain aware of and be open to learning how to more accurately represent the culture and dances.” Come to this year’s UND Writers Conference to witness Ariann Rousu’s inspiring artistic work, which will also be on exhibit at UND’s Memorial Union Gallery.

Ariann Rousu will present her work on Wednesday, March 20 at 4 p.m. She will also participate in the noon panel, “Home & Histories,” earlier that day.

Nicholas Baldwin is a PhD Candidate in English at UND.

Terrance Hayes

By Annastecia Ebisike

In the realm of contemporary poetry, with seven poetry collections to his name, Terrance Hayes stands as an ingenious wordsmith who fearlessly excavates the strata of racial complexities in America.

In “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin," written after the 2016 US elections, Hayes wields the sonnet form to navigate race relations and contemporary experiences of Black people in American society. Hayes characterizes the American sonnet as a form that is “part music box, part meat,” and distinguishes it from the structured traditional sonnet. While the American sonnet may seem to provide freedom for experimentation, Hayes challenges this notion and asserts that it is merely an illusion. Within the country, no one enjoys true freedom, and the American sonnet, too, fails to deliver genuine liberation.

Born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1971, Hayes’s journey is as richly textured as his poetry. Educated at Coker College, Hayes initially explored painting and English while excelling as an Academic All-American on the college basketball team. After earning his MFA from the University of Pittsburgh in 1997, Hayes traversed the globe, teaching in Japan, Ohio, and Louisiana, before settling as a distinguished Silver Professor of English at New York University.

A 2014 MacArthur Fellow, Hayes’s accolades include a Whiting Award, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, an NAACP Image Award for Poetry, and the National Book Award. Along with his own writing, Hayes has left an indelible mark as the poetry editor for the New York Times Magazine and guest editor of “The Best American Poetry 2014.”

A visionary poet of form, an academic luminary, a writer who shapes the narrative of contemporary American literature – come to the 2024 UND Writers Conference to see the one and only Terrance Hayes, who will be reading from his work on Friday, March 22 at 8 p.m. and participating in the noon panel, “Beyond Boundaries,” earlier that day.

Annastecia Ebisike is a graduate student in UND’s English Department.

Sterling HolyWhiteMountain

By Chad Erickstad

People who know writing are excited about the work of Sterling HolyWhiteMountain. The excitement stems directly from the quality of his writing. David Treuer, in an article for the Los Angeles Times, named HolyWhiteMountain one of “five Indigenous authors you should read right now,” describing his short stories “Featherweight” (The New Yorker) and “This Then Is a Song, We Are Singing” (The Paris Review) as “incredible, formally challenging, [and] immensely readable.” In other words, there is excitement and anticipation around HolyWhiteMountain’s exemplary work as it is beginning to gain the attention it deserves.

HolyWhiteMountain was raised in northwestern Montana on the Blackfeet reservation. As an unrecognized citizen of the Blackfeet nation, HolyWhiteMountain understands the intricate social dynamics involved in reservation life, and he infuses it into his writing. 

“My work — both fiction and nonfiction — is largely about the conflicts that dominate Indian country on the inside,” he told the art blog “Aesthetics for Birds.” “I’m aware that most people on the planet don’t understand what’s going on where I’m from, and they don’t understand the dynamics between tribes and state and federal governments, so I try to get at the fundamentally human issues inside of these situations, because you have to give people something to hold onto in the middle of this ocean of difference.”

HolyWhiteMountain holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has received the James C. McCreight Fiction Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, along with the Stegner fellowship at Stanford University where he is currently a Jones lecturer. Besides The New Yorkerand The Paris Review, his work has appeared in The Atlantic, Montana Quarterly, Yellow Medicine Review, and vol. 1 and 2 of “Off the Path: An Anthology of 21st Century American Indian and Indigenous Writers.”

Chad Erickstad is an undergraduate majoring in English, among other things, at UND.

Marie Myung-Ok Lee

By Jayden Buckau

Marie Myung-Ok Lee was born in the small mining town of Hibbing, Minnesota, after her parents fled from North Korea to South Korea. Lee studied and succeeded massively at Brown University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, where she stayed after graduation as a writer in residence at Brown before moving on.

Later in her career, Lee co-founded the Asian American Writing Workshop in New York to support like-minded writers in their pursuit of literary creativity. As well as having written "Somebody’s Daughter," an acclaimed novel often praised as groundbreaking, Lee has also penned a number of essays and short stories that have gone on to be published in prestigious outlets such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Guardian, to name a few. In her shorter-length published work, Lee broaches topics such as disability, racism in the U.S., and the COVID-19 epidemic.

Lee currently teaches at Columbia University in their Writing Division while working on new material for her novels, short stories, and essays. Lee’s most recent works include “The Evening Hero,” a novel that focuses on North Korea, the experience of immigration, and the future of medicine, as well as her young adult work, “Hurt You,” which recounts the story of a Korean-American family caring for a neurodivergent member.

Lee has received a great number of accolades during her time as a writer, including the Best Book Award from The Friends of American Writers, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fiction Fellowship, an Our Word Writer in residence for the MFA program at Columbia University, and an O. Henry honorable mention. Lee has also served as a judge for both the National Book Award and the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.

Marie Myung-Ok Lee will participate in the noon panel “Ways of Seeing” on Thursday, March 21st and read from her work at 8 p.m. later that evening.

Jayden Buckau is a graduate student in UND’s Department of English.

Ava Chin

By Kyle Moore

Ava Chin is an accomplished writer, journalist, and professor. A fifth generation Chinese American New Yorker, Chin’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, Saveur, Marie Claire and others. In her 2023 work, “Mott Street: A Chinese American Family's Story of Exclusion & Homecoming”, Chin, the only child of a single mother, traces her family’s unjust history, beginning with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the federal law that banned Chinese laborers from immigrating to the United States.

“Mott Street” finds its origin in the disconnect between the generational stories told by Chin’s family and the history Chin learned in school, by researching her family’s agonizing work on the transcontinental railroad. Chin eventually discovers a single building on Mott Street, in New York’s Chinatown, where her ancestors started families and forged new identities. Time Magazine’s Shannon Carlin explains that Chin “writes unflinchingly of the racism and marginalization her family faced after arriving in the American West in the mid-19th century…‘Mott Street’ is a sensitively told story of survival, resilience, and resistance.”

Chin received the 2015 M.F.K. Fisher Award for her food memoir, “Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal.” Chin has held important fellowships at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center, the U.S. Fulbright Scholars program, and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Currently, Chin is a professor of creative nonfiction and journalism at the CUNY Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island.

On Wednesday, March 20, Chin will help kickstart the UND Writers Conference by participating in a panel discussion entitled “Homes & Histories” at noon, then lead a creative non-fiction community workshop and, later that same night (at 8 p.m.), read from her work. All events will take place at UND’s Memorial Union. See you there.

Kyle Moore is a PhD candidate in English at UND.

Laura Marris

By Casey Fuller

During the Covid pandemic, certain books became essential. There was no more essential book, perhaps, than Albert Camus’ novel, “The Plague.” Considered by many to be Camus’ existentialist masterwork, “The Plague” traces the contours of a literal pandemic beside massively divergent responses from an array of distinct characters facing potential death. Along with this literal pandemic, “The Plague” provides an allegorical story, too, one where the pandemic can be seen as the Nazi invasion of the French Algerian city of Oran. Fascism, a pandemic, existentialism – clearly the Plague had multiple resonances from a public suffering from COVID-19.

But there was a catch; Camus wrote “The Plague” in French, and it hadn’t been translated into English in seventy years. That’s where Laura Marris comes in. Laura Marris is a writer and translator. Marris translated Albert Camus’ “The Plague” in a lucid, contemporary prose, the first new English translation of Camus’ novel in over seven decades during the COVID pandemic.

And there’s more. With Alice Kaplan, Marris also co-authored a book of criticism entitled, “States of Plague: Reading Albert Camus in a Pandemic.”

Beyond Camus, Marris has also translated Louis Guilloux's “Blood Dark,” Geraldine Schwarz’s “Those Who Forget,” Jean-Yves Frétigné’s “To Live is to Resist: The Life of Antonio Gramsci,” among others. Marris’ own writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Believer, The Point andThe Yale Review. Her anticipated book of essays, “The Age of Loneliness”, which guides readers through ecological absence-making, displacement, climate crisis, and vanishing species, will be published by Graywolf Press in 2024. Marris’ important work has been supported by fellowships from MacDowell, a Daniel Varoujan Prize, and a grant from the Robert B. Silvers Foundation. Marris is currently a visiting A\assistant professor of creative writing at the University at Buffalo.

Laura Marris will read from her debut collection on Friday, March 22 at 4 p.m. She will also participate in the noon panel, “Home & Histories” on Wednesday, March 20.

Casey Fuller is a PhD Candidate in English at UND and is currently serving as the assistant to the co-directors of the UND Writers Conference.

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